Health unit provides vital records services
By Kelby Newcomb
Carroll County residents don’t have to make a trip to Harrison or Little Rock to obtain a copy of their birth certificates. They can now get one at the Carroll County Health Unit in Berryville.
Lisa Holt, administrator of the Carroll County Health Unit, said the unit started issuing birth and death certificates last July.
A September press release from the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) says it is now offering vital records services in all counties. At least one local health unit in every county is ready to process same-day in-person requests for birth certificates and death certificates, it says.
The release says the health department had already issued more than 37,000 birth and death certificates from health units as of September 2018.
“The only catch is the birth had to have occurred in Arkansas,” Holt said. “If you were born in Springfield, Mo., or Oklahoma, we can’t do those.”
She continued, “If they were born in Arkansas, we can print them right here. There’s a database, and we search for that person by name and birthdate of course.”
If the local health unit cannot access an Arkansas birth certificate immediately, Holt said they will contact Little Rock to make sure it’s in the database.
“Say it’s my grandfather, and it’s an old birth certificate,” Holt said. “We contact Little Rock. They make sure it’s in there, and then they work their magic so that we can see it and print it.”
All residents have to do to obtain a birth certificate is complete an application at the health unit, provide photo identification and pay a $12 processing fee, she said. Each additional copy will be available for $10 each. If ADH Vital Records does not find the birth record requested, the $12 fee will be kept as a search charge, she said.
“I can get my own birth certificate, my mother’s, my child’s, my maternal grandparent’s or guardian’s,” Holt said. “I can get my father’s if his name is listed on my birth certificate. Death records are the same.”
The reason residents cannot always obtain their father’s birth or death certificates, she said, is because the father is not always named on the birth certificate.
“If my husband walked in and wanted my son’s birth certificate, they’re going to ask him if his name is listed,” Holt said. “If he says ‘yes’ and they pull it up and his name is not listed, we cannot release that birth certificate to him. That causes some conflict.”
She continued, “He needs to go back to the mother who didn’t put his name on the certificate. Sometimes that’s a sticky situation, but that’s out of our control. That’s the thing we’re going to get hung up on the most.”
If there are any changes or corrections that need to be made to a birth certificate, she said residents will need to contact Little Rock.
“Little Rock can make changes and corrections to the document,” Holt said, “but we cannot out in the field.”
She said the health units are not able to provide marriage certificates or divorce decrees, either.
“Those still have to come out of Little Rock,” Holt said.
The health units started providing vital records services to make birth and death certificates more accessible for citizens in Arkansas, she said.
“If you’re in southern Arkansas, you don’t have to drive to Berryville to get the death certificate for a family member who died here,” she said, “and if you’re in Berryville you don’t have to drive to Harrison to get a birth certificate either. We can help you, and if we can’t then we’ll find someone who can.”
Holt said the health unit is also hoping to expand and renovate its building to better serve clients and staff.
“Our conference room can only hold about 10 to 12 people,” she said. “We have no training facility. For any meeting that requires training, you pretty much have to go to Fayetteville or Russellville.”
The health unit’s nursing staff goes through a six-month training period, she said, to prepare them for public health services.
“We’re not training them how to be nurses. They’re already nurses,” Holt said. “We’re training them how to do public health because it is so different than your typical hospital or clinic setting. There’s a lot of stuff to cover, and it’s updated routinely. We don’t have the capability to train our people here in our own building.”
The plan, she said, is to expand the back side of the building and construct a conference and training center.
“We’re also looking at some renovation because the building is almost 20 years old,” Holt said. “There’s some sheetrock damage through the building, some floor damage and a few ceiling issues because of prior water leaks.”
She said the health unit has applied for a Community Development Block Grant from the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District.
“The grant has a limit of $200,000, and we’re trying to get all we can,” Holt said. “It won’t cost the county anything. We’re looking at hopefully getting enough in our grant so we can replace all the flooring and get new light-emitting diode (LED) lighting because our lights aren’t the best.”
She said they would also convert the current conference room into a larger break room and pave the remainder of the parking lot in order to provide more parking spaces.
“Our current break room can only fit four adults before it’s very crowded,” she said. “Our kitchen appliances are very old. We don’t even have an oven. That’s kind of what got this started.”
Holt said the health unit was performing one of its quarterly emergency drills, and the scenario was that snow was building up on the ground, power lines were down and there were hot power lines in the parking lot.
“We could not let clients leave in that scenario,” she said. “The drill played out, and I went to County Judge Sam Barr and said ‘Sam, we have a problem. If this ever happens, we can house them overnight in the building. We have a generator backup that will provide heat and protect vaccines.’ ”
Holt continued, “We could survive overnight until help came, but we have no way to feed them. We have a tiny microwave, but that’s it. I told him if we had a gas oven then we could fix enough soup or enough of something to feed 10 to 20 people. He said ‘Well, then we need to get you an oven.’ ”
She said the health unit is also hoping to use the grant to build another entrance so that they can provide drive-through clinics for flu shots or other vaccines.
“If there was an outbreak and we need to issue shots that day, then they wouldn’t have to get out of their vehicle,” Holt said. “Right now, we would have to take a mass situation like that off-site. It’s a hardship not only on our staff but also puts things like our vaccines at risk.”
She continued, “If we could do something here to make the health unit capable of holding a drive-through clinic, then why wouldn’t we? So that’s kind of a goal too.”
Holt said the health unit was the last facility in Carroll County to receive a community development block grant.
“They were tickled we were trying to get it because they want to help Carroll County,” she said. “We want to keep our building feasible and up-to-date. Hopefully after we get it modernized, we’ll be able to last another 20 or 30 years in this building.”
The health unit is located at 402 Hailey Road in Berryville. For more information, call 870-423-2923.